Unlike the Red Sox, Anna Karski and other members of the Hull Boosters Club Inc. can’t afford to have a bad year.
That is because varsity sports at the high school are hanging in the balance, always in danger of being cut if the money isn’t raised to keep them going.
Hull High boosters, area families, and other supporters are in the fourth year of virtually self-funding the school’s athletic programs. After a property tax override failed in May 2009, the athletic budget of $240,000 for Hull High sports was reduced to zero. In May 2010, the town again voted down an override that would have restored much of the school budget, and with it the athletic budget.
The school budget now includes $40,000 for coaching salaries, but the remaining funds needed to sustain the program — about $220,000 for this year, according to the athletic director, Jim Quatromoni — have to come from athletic fees charged to families or from money that is privately raised or donated.
The Pirates have managed to keep the lights on, thanks to a corps of highly motivated volunteers and a policy of cutting expenses wherever possible, including some road games and nonleague contests.
Hull is hardly alone in needing to raise money to keep sports programs going. In the 46 public high school districts in the Globe South coverage area, only seven do not impose athletic fees. In the past two years, 11 districts have either instituted or increased athletic fees, while three districts have decreased them. In addition, 19 districts impose non-sport activity fees, for such things as drama clubs, at high schools.
As communities struggle with tight budgets amid the economic downturn and a continuing aversion to broad-based tax increases, several schools south of Boston are relying on dedicated booster clubs of parents and fans.
In Abington, for example, the Green Wave Booster Club has raised about $75,000 in the last three years to help keep Abington High’s subvarsity teams in business and assist in other areas of the budget.
In Bridgewater, a group that was formed in 2004 to save sports at the high school finances items that the district and sports budget cannot afford.
Karski has been involved with the Hull boosters for six years, since her daughter Elena was in the eighth grade.
In Hull, the funds raised by boosters had long supplemented the budget, buying jackets and other extras. But after May 2009, when the sports budget was slashed, they became vital to the programs.
“I can recall being devastated at first,” Karski said. “After all, sports, drama, all the fun stuff, it’s all part of high school. I couldn’t imagine my kids not having that full experience.”
Elena went on be a captain in basketball and also played soccer. Son Calvin is a Hull High junior, playing basketball and soccer. “I don’t know how many people other than Jim [Quatromoni] could have lasted this long doing this,” Karski said.
Over the past few years, she said, the core group of volunteers have fed off one another’s energy.
“We didn’t want to let each other down,” she said.
She said she has also been heartened by the outpouring of support. “The townspeople have been wonderful. They’ve donated cruise boats for our midnight cruises; they wear the booster stickers proudly on their vehicles. I wouldn’t change any of the experiences I’ve had.”
The sports boosters also try to help in areas outside of sports, such as renting a bus for a field trip or enrichment trip.
“It’s such a small town, and we’re all in this together,” Karski said.
She doesn’t see the extensive fund-raising or user fees going away any time soon, but hopes there will be some light at the end of the tunnel.
“We just have to find ways that the entire burden doesn’t fall on this committee,” she said.
Quatromoni said the number of students requiring a waiver of fees has increased in recent years. That, in turn, has exacerbated budget problems, leading to an effort that asks residents to sponsor the fees of student-athletes who cannot pay.
The story is much the same in Abington, where the Green Wave Boosters long supported Abington High athletics with the traditional jackets, awards, and banquet. But when the town faced hard budget choices three years ago after a failed override and it seemed subvarsity sports would be eliminated, they stepped up their efforts.
“If we didn’t get that money, I’d hate to even think about where we’d be,” said Abington High’s athletic director, Steve Moore.
The booster club president, Chris Nagle, had two daughters go through Abington High and now has a son who is a junior. The group runs such activities as going door-to-door each October, or hosting a Teamwork Trivia night and a comedy night in conjunction with youth football. Then there are the usual concession stands at Abington High athletic events.
“We’re always looking for new members and new ideas,” said Nagle, who has been president for three years and involved in fund-raising for eight years. “Our motto is, ‘Keep them in cleats and off the streets.’ ”
What keeps him and the rest of the boosters going is the support from residents. “The townspeople, the high school alumni, they come out in droves to support our fund-raisers,” Nagle said. “It never ceases to amaze me.”
Nagle said there is a core group of 15 to 18 volunteers. They feel the pressure with the schools and student-athletes counting on the money, and he wonders what would happen if they had a bad year.
The town and the schools need to find another way to pay for subvarsity sports on a more permanent basis, he said. “Sooner or later, this [money] has to be in the budget,” said Nagle. “I don’t think anyone involved in the schools wants us to feel that kind of pressure.”
The Friends of Bridgewater-Raynham Athletics was born during the 2004 budget crisis that threatened the existence of the athletic program. Since then, it has morphed into a group that funds capital projects or items that the school or town budgets cannot afford.
In recent years, that includes a $35,000 resurfacing of the high school track, new scoreboards for the soccer field and the field hockey/softball complex, and the sweeper arm that, attached to a tractor, grooms the artificial turf field.
“Generally speaking, we’re going to do something that lasts more than a year, said Friends president Paige Heath. “We leave the uniforms to the schools and the teams.”
The group raises about $28,000 a year through business sponsorships, and generates thousands more by staffing concession stands and the annual “Mr. B-R” pageant, which features male seniors in formal wear showing off their talents and answering beauty pageant-style questions.
“They’ve been a godsend,” said Bridgewater-Raynham’s athletic director, Dan Buron, of the Friends.
“They’ve allowed us to keep our heads above the water and me to focus on the core of the program,” he said.
In Weymouth, school sports for the past five years were largely funded by user fees, gate admissions, fund-raisers, donations, and advertisements by town businesses. In one year, the school budget allocated $100,000 for athletics, but in other years the program was dependent on user fees and other outside sources of income.
This year, fund-raisers got some relief when the School Committee provided $300,000 for the sports budget, leaving just a $100,000 gap.
“I think for the last five years, we’ve run a streamlined and super-efficient program, and that’s allowed us to overcome financial challenges,” said athletic director Kevin Mackin.
Mackin praised members of the booster club for their hard work and the support from businesses in town, and said the budget would allow everyone to “take a breath.”
Karski of Hull, and Abington’s Nagle said they believe they are not being taken for granted and that students appreciate the work that goes into raising the money.
When students and parents convene to register for fall sports, Karsi said, they are reminded that there would be no sports without the fund-raising.
“We make sure the kids are a part of this effort and have ownership in it in some way,” she said.
“At the annual banquet, we ask kids who played subvarsity sports that year to stand up,” said Nagle. “We say to the parents, ‘Your sons and daughters wouldn’t be playing sports if it weren’t for the people in this room.’ I think they understand that.”